The old saying of “prove me wrong” was used a lot when I was growing up. The thought and motivation behind the statement is to get the other person to step up and prove your idea, ability, or skills.
As I grew in my own leadership I found that statement inherently flawed. When I wanted my people to step up, I lead with the statement, “Prove me right.” One word makes a huge difference.
Starting in a positive place
When you tell someone to prove you wrong, you are starting out from a negative perspective. You’re saying, “I’d don’t believe in you or your ability to show me otherwise.” This motivator may have worked a generation or two ago, but no one today wants to work for someone that doesn’t believe in them.
Turning the phrase around is still challenging to the other person. “Prove me right,” says that, “Look I believe in you, maybe more than you do, now go validate my trust and belief in your ability.”
Starting out in a positive place as a person tackles a challenge is a valuable boost of energy to get them going.
Encourage them along the way
A leader with a prove me right attitude checks in with their people and see how they are doing to meet their goal. They will support the person through advice, guidance, mentoring, and offering resources for the person to hit that challenge and goal.
Be mindful to check-in periodically with the person you offered the challenge to. Make sure that they are staying on track and provide a good environment where they can be transparent with the struggles and questions that they have. If they feel like you are going to be judgemental, not open to listening, or dismissive then they will not open up to you.
A prove me wrong mindset leader waits around until the project deadline is up before they re-engage. This person is going to hit you with, “I told you so,” or a degree of skepticism before they acknowledge your win.
Validate and celebrate
Regardless of the outcome celebrate the effort that the person or team put in to meet the challenge or goal. Maybe they blew away everyone’s’ expectations. Celebrate big with them and point out individual achievements in front of the whole team or a group of people. Perhaps they fell well short of the goal. Take time to celebrate the progress that was made and look back to assess what impacted the final result and what the team could have done differently. Avoid signaling out a person and instead focus on the activities, behaviors, and outside factors that came into play.
Why bother making the distinction?
The difference in the two statements and mindsets is only one word, but you can see how differently they impact your team.
Be intentional in every word that you use when motivating your team. While you may not give it much thought, the wrong word or phrase can linger in a team member’s mind long after you’ve moved on. If you find yourself later regretting what you say, slow down, prepare more ahead of time and stick to your general script.
If you find yourself too scripted, think more in terms of guardrails and step out of your comfort zone to be a little more flexible and authentic in your conversations with others.
Lead your people with the right attitude that lifts them up rather than forcing them to prove their worth to gain your attention. They will perform better, stay longer, and perhaps one day contribute at levels that neither one thought was possible.
I really admire boxers for their dedication and commitment to reaching a goal. Think about all that goes into a fight that can last as little as a minute long. They thoroughly watch what they eat months ahead of time, They are constantly training, and they sacrifice other non-essential items that distract them from the upcoming fight.
From the prep, to the fight and recovery; a good boxer can teach us a thing or two about leadership.
They are constantly improving and preparing
Watch any boxing movie and the vast majority of the time of the film is focused on the training and planning as opposed to the actual fights. A boxer quickly loses their standing and reputation when they stop furthering their experience.
When I talk to successful and well-respected leaders, one of the most common traits that they look for in other leaders is the act of being a continual learner. On the flip side, I’ve seen and coached many leaders that plateaued in their careers. At some point, they had a sense of arrival and stopped pushing their personal expertise and lost the desire to continue to change.
If there is one trait or ability that I would recommend to keep sharp, it’s this one. Being a continual learner feeds so many other aspects of your leadership. It keeps you agile against a constantly shifting environment, helps you stay relevant, and helps you relate better to others.
They know how to dodge a punch
Boxers practice dodging punches just as push as they do on focusing on their hitting skills. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit if you are constantly taking punches too. While you might not be in a physical fight on a regular basis, there’s a good likelihood that you face verbal and emotional fights on the regular.
Some people easily fall into these traps and find themselves in fights that they know that they shouldn’t be in. Dodging these proverbial punches heavily ties back into our EQ series.
Self-management – Ok, you got hit, now what? How you react here makes all the difference. A good boxer knows that they are going to get hit and have to keep dodging if they are going to be successful. Understand your hot buttons and work to control those in the heat of the moment.
Social awareness – Boxers learn to quickly pick up on the non-verbal cues of their opponents in order to react quickly and last longer in the fight. Hone in on the social cues around you to anticipate when things are about to take a turn for the worse. How does the room feel? What is the demeanor of the people around you? Who is not acting like their normal self?
The ability to dodge a proverbial punch can save you and the other person from a painful interaction.
They get back up after a defeat
We get knocked down in life. Sometimes it may be a smaller thing like feeling down and disappointed with someone close to you, to something big as suddenly losing your job or a family member.
A boxer with any worth doesn’t quit and walk away after their first defeat. They take time to re-assess the fight and then work to heal and start training again. Don’t give up because you have had a setback, no matter how big or small it may be. Take time if needed to heal mentally, emotionally, or spiritually and then get back on the road to recovery and growth.
Put the work in ahead of time, be agile in the moment, and take care of yourself along the way.
As a kid, you may have loved playing with magnifying glasses. As an adult, you may need one to function a little better! Whether digital or in the analog world magnifying glasses are something that we can take for granted but can teach us a thing or two about leadership and life.
It obviously magnifies
The primary function of a magnifying glass is its ability to help you see things better, bigger, and clearer. Think about your team, those you work with, and your friends and family. As a leader, you should magnify their lives in many ways.
Magnify their talents and general awesomeness: Showcase, call out and recognize the talents, skills, and accomplishments. This helps your team feel more confident in their role and creates more personal buy-in to your leadership. Take time in the real and in virtual meetings to highlight and celebrate others. This is also a great way to model the behavior that you want to see in those you interact with on a daily basis.
Help others see themselves: We speak often about the power behind strong emotional intelligence. The foundation of EQ is self-awareness and it’s also an area that many leaders struggle in without even knowing it. Do your part to help others see aspects of themselves and how they come across to others. Take an empathetic and caring approach so that the person accepts the feedback well.
Use your talents to magnify the situation: You have unique talents, abilities, and skill sets that others don’t. Leverage those skills to show others the bigger picture and impact of what’s going on around them. If you are great at technology, you may bring up how a project impacts a system and explain the larger implications. In your personal life, you may use your talents to help a person learn a new skill or to understand a situation better.
It can be used to bring the heat
When focused under the right conditions, a magnifying glass can literally bring the heat. Certain types of magnifying glasses can even start a fire with enough precision.
In Facelifts, overhauls, and funerals we talk about the need to assess your life and situation and make adjustments accordingly. Shrubs and plants can be pruned so that they grow healthier, fuller, and stronger, Burn out the dead parts of your life and your leadership so that you can continue to grow.
As a leader, you have the responsibility to help others excel in their role and meet their career aspirations. This often means helping them refine their own ways and behaviors in order to make it to the next step in their career. Bring the heat when needed in a concentrated way. You don’t want to come in and scorch the earth! Be precise and intentional in your approach.
It magnifies only what you want it to
Most magnifying glasses are relatively small and while they are great at doing what they do, it only works where you point it.
Make sure that you are magnifying the right things in your life. It’s easy to get down on ourselves and then have a confirmation bias to affirm the negative situations currently happening to you. For example, maybe you got reassigned to remote work during the pandemic and didn’t like it. You missed your friends, the perks of the office, and getting out of the house. If you keep magnifying the downside, your confirmation bias will only keep bringing out negative things that catch your attention.
Be aware of your current mental and emotional state. Are you focusing on the right areas? It very well could be different depending on what aspect of your life you are looking at. Maybe work is going well, but you’re struggling in a personal relationship. Move your focus when needed and point it in a positive direction. There is enough negativity out there as is, without us needing to overfocus on it.
Focus on the right things, bring out the best in your team, and be willing to burn away the things holding you back.
I’ll admit that I am an awful card player. Even though I would get destroyed in a high-stakes game, I have always admired the tenacity, mental fortitude, and the surprising complex mental game happening underneath the cards in the players’ hands.
There are several things that we can learn from poker players to help strengthen our own leadership and teams.
Learn to read people well
A professional poker player becomes an artist when it comes to reading other people’s body language or “tells”. From the vein on your neck that moves as your heartbeat increases to abnormal eye movements and fidgeting, a great poker player picks up on the smallest nuances to get an understanding of what’s going on in your head.
We talked before about the power of body language. Just as there is power in how you exhibit and leverage your body language in communication, there is also power in how you correctly observe and assess other people’s body language. Slow down and take time to observe others. We’ll cover how to grow your observation skills in the upcoming episode: Growing Your Observation Skills.
Having a strong ability to grow your observation skills, can help you fully access the situation at hand, what the true undercurrent of the conversation is, and potentially address the root cause of an issue before it worsens.
Strengthen your Self-Management skills
In addition to great observation skills, a solid poker player also has to have strong self-management skills. Just as you are observing others, those same people are also observing you. Being able to control yourself in stressful and high stakes situations is essential if you want to keep your money.
As you learn to strengthen your self-management skills reflect on past experiences and seek to find and understand what your “tic” is. I know a leader that begins to shake his leg in the chair when he’s frustrated. Others roll their shoulders as they tighten up with stress, and breathe differently when they are upset. If you aren’t sure what your tells are to others, ask those that are close to you and are fairly observant. They can give you the extra insight to understand how you are communicating with others without even knowing it.
Be a risk-taker and be willing to fold
Poker players are certainly risk-takers. In fact, every hand that they play has some level of risk involved, because they don’t have all the information at the table. If they did, it really wouldn’t be a fun game. As a leader, you’ve also got to be a solid risk-taker. Without risk, you won’t change and without change, you won’t be relevant in the future. See examples: Sears, Blockbuster, K-mart, and others. Lean into risk and step out of your comfort zone to grow.
As one player takes a risk in order to push another player or to learn their body language, they also know when it’s time to fold and walk away.
Let go of emotional attachments to processes, projects, and even people sometimes, so that you can let go of things that aren’t healthy for you or your team. Outside of the emotional aspect, people have a tendency to hang on too long just out of stubbornness. They don’t want to feel like a loser or that their way is antiquated. Help those people see the why behind the change and provide them with tangible steps to get from point A to point B. Then schedule regular check-ins to help support the person.
Be the poker player in your leadership and life; learn the full story that the people around you are telling, have strong self-management, and take some risks. You’ll begin to realize that a deck of cards can be a start to becoming an artist when it comes to engaging with others.
You rely on thread every day, whether you realize it or not. Yes, the obvious example is your clothing, but think about other subtle items that you count on like seatbelts, most books, and other items in your daily life.
Today we’ll look at how we can model that purpose of thread and become better leaders ourselves.
It connects things together
Thread’s number 1 purpose is to connect things together.
Be the thread by connecting people across your network. Build continuity between groups in your work environment. Help make a connection for someone who is trying to find a job. I find a lot of joy and value in being able to a part of someone’s story by helping them connect with the right people/resource.
Subordinates of connected leaders are three times as likely to be high performing employees!
If done right, you won’t even notice it
My father was my scout leader growing up and he also sewed all of the patches on our uniforms. The patches were on there but it wasn’t pretty. Thread mostly matched the patch and it was sloppy at best. His goal was to get the patch on there and didn’t hold a lot of value on the finer details of how it looked. His sewing did the job, but sometimes the sew job brought more attention to itself than the actual award did.
Being a great connector means that there will be many times when you are essential to success, but should not have the spotlight. Set ego aside and let others have the spotlight. The whole project or goal may have hinged on how you helped them connect to the people and resources that they needed, It doesn’t matter. In the long term, you’ll gain more equity in your team when you equip for success and then move out of the way rather than equipping and then holding up the trophy at the end.
Now that I’m back in scouts leading my son, I take our uniforms to a professional that uses a machine and invisible thread. It looks great and you can’t even see how it’s sewed on.
The more it’s used the stronger it becomes
I’ve had to do some crazy sewing for some of the costumes at Disney running events. There are never instructions, just crazy ideas to turn into reality. There are times where 1 pass of thread wouldn’t work to secure the two pieces….there were times when 5 passes wouldn’t do it! Every pass always makes the bond a little stronger. You just keep going until you get the desired look and strength.
A one-and-done connection with someone might be good, but it will weaken over time and certainly won’t hold up against stress and wear and tear. Invest time in your connections and network, especially those that are important to you. Not all of your connections with others should be at a 10, just ensure that you are making the extras touches and passes with those that you care about and those that you want to get to know and support more.
Be the thread for others. Be a leader that connects people to others, do it well without hogging the spotlight and be present enough to keep those relationships solid.
Zack Hudson: Well, welcome to the Passing the Baton leadership podcast. So glad to have you with us today Sir!
Tim Spiker: Zack, thanks a lot. Looking forward to talking with you and with your audience.
ZH: Yeah, I’m looking forward to sharing your story. I’m actually reading your book The Only Leaders Worth Following and I’m looking forward to diving into it, but before we do, why don’t you let Baton Carriers know just a little bit about your journey.
TS: I’ll tell you the story about how I started in the in this leadership development space. I was waiting tables at a restaurant in St. Louis, Mo (which is in the center of the United States for the international listeners) and I was invited to do it open house for a marketing company. I found a couple of things when I was getting ready to study marketing in grad school and I thought there would probably be free meal there.
I got there and there was an open seat in the middle of the room. I thought it would be a little presentation, so I took the seat in middle of the room….and that turned out to be very important. Because I found out about 3 minutes in that I was at a recruiting event for an MLM company, and they wanted me to sell water purifiers to all my family and friends.
And I’ve got nothing against MLM companies, but I wasn’t interested. But what happened just after that effort, is that I realized what was going on and started talking about what means to be an employee
It was such a dark cloud of doom and gloom, and I just sat there with everyone else in the presentation and I just thought it didn’t have to be that way.
How come when somebody says, “What’s it like to work for Zack?”
Why can’t that answer be, “You can’t believe the results we’re producing.”
“I can’t believe how much I’m growing.”
“I can’t believe the wholeness of my life and my family is a part of this in a meaningful way.”
Why couldn’t that be the answer?
That idea launched me on my leadership journey to learn as much about leadership as I could.
ZH: So tell me some things that you are excited about doing these days.
TS: We ran into some research in number of years ago and ultimately with the group I was working with, I figured I’m not going to be able to speak freely because an unusual message, and we’re not going to be able to do that freely inside a consulting firm or even inside a company’s leadership development team. About seven years ago we took the plunge and went out and created an organization.
What we’re excited about doing is bringing this unexpected message and an unconventional method to the marketplace. It’s just been a real joy over the last seven years.
ZH: I’m currently reading your book The Only Leaders Worth Following and really appreciate the whole concept of the book, which is that ¾ of your leadership effectiveness comes from who you are and not what you do.
So why is that number important to consider as we look at our own growth and how we invest in others?
TS: Well, investment really is the is the keyword. When I say 3/4 of your effectiveness as a leader comes from who you are, not what you do. It kind of sounds like I stuck my finger in the air one day and that’s not actually what happened.
This number is from hard statistical research that I got a chance to be a part of a number of years ago, and so it’s so critical when you look at that data and then you think about how we invest in leadership development across the globe.
Are we really investing 3/4 of our dollars and our energy and our time in becoming more well developed from the inside out? (I will say it’s not even close to that ratio honestly) Knowing the data becomes important if we want to be efficient and effective in order to take that 3/4 ratio into heart.
ZH: I have a operations background so when I was trying to sell leadership programs it was always about showing the numbers and money besides just the soft and warm and fuzzies behind leadership. We were able to get some programs built out by showing the value. I think that ¾ number is very relevant in showing the true context around the focus of leadership the way it should be rather than the way we approach it sometimes.
Let’s dive in the Who of Leadership. The first concept you talk about here is Others Focused. Tell us a bit about this as well as some tips on how we can begin to strengthen this in our own leadership walk.
TS: At a certain level it’s pretty simple. It starts with the idea of even though I’m in the position of leadership, do I think that this is all about me and my enrichment in my next step? My promotion, and my accomplishments? Or am I showing up as somebody who is about the people around me that I’m influencing daily?
The others focused concept is that it is not about my ego, my bank account, or my advancement. It’s about the people that I am bringing along with me.
That’s what it means to be Other Focused.
ZH: What are some ways that maybe we’ve been caught up and we become…. Maybe I don’t know that self-centered is the right word, but that’s what I’m gonna go with right now that turn it from more of focusing on ourselves to be more focused on others.
TS: Yeah, I think it’s fine to self say, self-centered and honestly using words like self-centeredness, is why we started the company, so that we can freely talk about those things because most of the business and consulting world know these things exist, but they don’t want to openly talk about it.
You know some of the ways that we combat that sort of thing is just being exposed to the concept that the very best leaders that most of us have followed are generous with their time.
They talk about people who told them the truth, even when it was hard. But they did it in a way that showed that they cared about them. They weren’t trying to abuse them. There is story after story about leaders or other focused around us, and one of the things that we work on in a pretty specific way around this is the idea of being curious.
“Am I a curious leader?” We got to expand that idea out from intellectual curiosity to the people around us.
How do they see things?
How do they feel about things?
What are their perspectives?
Use this simple phrase when engaging with others:
“Tell me more about that.”
Whether you are a leader, or practicing for when you will be a leader, there is an exercise that you can do here.
Twice a day for seven days, (14 times this week) I’m going to say, “Tell me more about that.”
I’d say about 98% of the time when I use that phrase, I learn at least an edge of something that I didn’t know previously. It may be just a perspective or an idea that somebody else has that I didn’t know about. That improves relationships and it gives me more information as a leader. Time and time again, leaders tell me that they struggle because they have so much imperfect information.
And so these are two things that come out of being others focused:
I’m interested in you.
It improves the relationship and improves the information.
ZH: Yeah, we’ve talked something similar here, Passing the Baton about how to become more likable with others and that’s one of the ideas that we share. Just asking questions and just being involved in the other person, not really sharing so much about yourself, because people like to talk about themselves, right?
And they walk away saying, “Tim was awesome!” but may not have said anything, you just asked questions the whole time.
TS: I’ve heard this phrase many times were like, “You’re so smart,” meanwhile you’re thinking to yourself, “I didn’t say anything.”
So just taking a genuine interest in others and fighting against that battle against self-interest. It’s going to be a battle for life that will never end but, it’s worth the fight because of the type of relationships and information that it produces.
ZH: So the next concept that we need to work in order to grow our Who of Leadership is called Inwardly Sound. Tell us about this idea here.
TS: One of the analogies I like to use with Inwardly Sound is to imagine that we’re going out on the ocean. We’re going to get out on this boat and we think about the hull of that boat. You want it to have integrity.
Essentially, we want to be able to take a beating and still be together. You want to be able to be able to survive waves and wind and weather of all kinds. You want to be able to count on it.
Take that same idea and apply it to a person. When somebody has integrity to the extent that I can count on them that when the challenges of work in life come at them, they’re not easily blown over. They can take a punch and continue because they’re clear and who they are. They are settled in here. They’re not insecure in seeking out everybody’s approval all the time.
They have that centeredness and subtleness about them. They are port in the storm to use another analogy around water, but not just because they’re a friend. I’m saying they are a port because they’ve done the work to understand who they are.
That’s a leader who’s inwardly sound.
ZH: I think focusing on the core who we are helps us be better leaders in the workplace and in our personal lives as well. What are some of the benefits for leaders that leverage the power of the “Who” they are in their leader?
TS: There’s a connection point here. When we become more inwardly sound and others focus, we become more trustworthy.
We trust the person who’s about us and not about themselves more than the person that is self-centered.
There is a deep connection between being trustworthy and engaging.
There’s a very direct connection between these two things. We’ve got 300 studies worldwide that connect engagement to performance. We discovered the who not what principle through this research, but this arc of leadership is what I’ve just been describing. The connections between Inwardly Sound and Others Focused to trustworthiness, to engagement and eventually to performance.
That’s why this matters so much in leadership.
ZH: Another analogy that I think of is trust is the key to a door. It’s hard to get in when the door’s locked and if trust is the key, without that it’s hard to get through to have engagement in a meaningful way.
TS: We do a little exercise with our clients where we read an email to them and we tell them to imagine it’s coming from a trustworthy person and not trustworthy person and then we ask them to rate their engagement afterward.
And Zack, we don’t change a single word in either email. It’s the exact same email.
On average with the groups that I work with, the average increase engagement by changing the trustworthiness of the leader is 275%.
ZH: Wow. Yeah, I can see I can see that.
TS: Imagine somebody you really trust is. And they say, “I’ve got a great opportunity for you,” and now imagine somebody you really don’t trust saying the same thing.
We see that totally differently, right?
ZH: That’s right, they’re like, “Hey, sit in the table in the middle of this conference room and have a free lunch on me. Trust me.”
TS: Yeah, that’s right.
So these is a big connection between trust and ultimately the results that we’re able to produce as leaders because of that discretionary effort of engagement.
ZH: I love the power that comes from being Inwardly Sound and Others Focused, so let’s break down a couple of misnomers as we start to wrap up our time today.
Isn’t others focuses the same as being customer centric?
TS: Oh man, I love this question because I’ve seen this go off the rails. Many times in this conversation, people will be repeating back Inwardly Sound and then they will say and “Outwardly Focused.”
And I’m like no, it’s Others Focused.
It’s about the people.
It’s important in business for us to be customer centric but customer centricity is a great strategy for many businesses, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a strategy.
if I’m just focused on customers and I’m not paying attention to the human beings around me that I’m actually leading then I’m not really an Others Focused leader. I’ve actually taken all of the personal sacrifice that goes into being Others Focused and just taken that out of the leadership equation and I’m not going to have that trust that we’re talking about, so there’s no problem.
Focus on your customers, sure, but being Others Focused is not about customer centricity. It’s about all the people that you’re leading in influence.
ZH: Alright, I will throw another one at you.
So all I have to be is Inwardly Sound and Others Focused and that’s it right? I’m going to be an exceptional leader after that. Is it that easy?
TS: It is not, but the What of leadership still matters. When you think about the What of leadership, think about vision and driving, culture, strategy, execution and motivation.
The analogy that we use around this to see the connection between the Who and the What of Leadership is that of a tree.
The root system is the Who of Leadership. everything we see is the What of Leadership. When we say, “Who not what.” We’re not saying that the What of Leadership doesn’t matter. We’re e answering the question about what is the foundation of your leadership? Where does it begin?
It begins with the roots and ultimately impacts the What of leadership. We need to have a really healthy and effective What. So much of that is impacted by Who we are.
I’ll tell just a quick story to make the point.
If I’m in charge of strategy, but I am also an insecure proud and non-curious leader. Imagine who I don’t have in the room to talk about strategy. I probably don’t include anyone who’s smarter than me. Imagine who I don’t listen to because I’m not humble. It’s about my ideas and if I’m not curious about other people’s ideas, we’re not engaging. So you see how Who impacts my ability to be a strategic thinker. That’s the connection between the two. What really matters and it’s deeply influenced by Who.
ZH: Thanks for hanging out with me today. I definitely recommend the book. Where can our listeners hang out with you, and where can they find the book?
TS:you can find the book on Amazon and all the other kind of electronic resources there.
Online, you can find us at theonlyleaders.com if you’re interested, you can be a part of our contact list and all the things that normally go along with that, so I would love to have anybody join along with this from the leadership side who would like to be a part of it.
ZH: Thank you so much for being on the show with us and appreciate your time.